Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Eight Absurd Feedback Comments Received From Clients After Interviewing Candidates

I try to always tell the truth to my candidates.  It is one of the reasons why people like me.  However, there are times when it is necessary to either outright lie or to skirt the truth.  That happens when giving feedback that is negative.

Why hurt someone?  Especially, when there is nothing that can be learned from the negative feedback.  If I hear negative things which are correctable, like the way someone dressed or the way someone answered (or didn’t answer questions), I will always be honest.  

Occasionally I get feedback from clients which, if told to my candidates, would be cruel or absurd.  I don’t give that kind of feedback. There is nothing to be gained from it.

For instance, I recently had a person who was an EVP, Director of Client Service, talking to another, actually smaller and, in my opinion, less sophisticated agency.  The human resources person who did the interview is really good.  She told me that she thought that this EVP was not senior enough for his particular job.  I thought it a bit strange since the job the EVP currently had was bigger and more complicated. (The new job was in a different city, where the candidate’s wife was being relocated.).  I learned a long time ago that, in recruiting, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So why would I give my candidate that feed back? There was absolutely nothing to be gained from telling him that he was not senior enough.  It would have provoked an argument and ill will towards the interviewing agency, so I merely told him that it was not a good match.  

That is a good response and is the truth.  And it gets away from the negatives, which, in this case were inexplicable.  I thought I would share with you some outrageous feedback that I have received over the years.

I have had clients tell me things, which shouldn’t be repeated.  For instance…

          -   “She is slovenly and fat.” (Neither is true; I know the candidate for many years.)

           -   “We thought he is stupid.”

           -   “His New York accent precludes him from working here.”

           -   “She is southern and her accent won’t play here.”
          -   “He comes across like a hayseed. He looked like a mortician” (Said of a perfectly well                 dressed candidate who happened to wear a suit on an interview.)

          -   “She has a foul mouth and said the ‘f’ word too many times.” (True, but the company                 was forewarned, but I though this person could do the required job. And, in this case I                   told the candidate who told me, “Tough Shit”.)

          -   “…Doesn’t fit the job because he is too inexperienced for this role” (Said of a former
                President of a major ad agency, interviewing at a smaller agency. Huh?)

          -   "We didn’t like the agencies he has worked at” (They had the résumé in advance, so why                 did  they see him?)

This kind of feedback is actually not helpful or constructive since it provides no direction to me (or to the candidate, for that matter).  You can debate whether it should have been said to me at all.  I have always believed that feedback should relate to the job and the needs of the company. In that way, I can be more specific when I do give feedback to candidates.  Every candidate understands when they don’t have some qualification that a client is looking for.  They also almost always understand when it is not a good "fit".

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Difference Between In-House Recruiters And External Recruiters, Like Me

Most candidates have never been placed by a recruiter.  Most companies network before hiring a headhunter, which makes perfect sense.  I read years ago that recruiters only accounted for about 20% of all placements.  Most of the other jobs were through networking.  I am sure that given the fact that many companies have now hired their own in-house recruiters, that number is now considerably lower.  But in-house recruiters are not the same as outside recruiters like us.

Outside recruiters who have really good relationships with companies can perform an invaluable service to both their clients – the companies that pay them – and their candidates. Over time, I have worked consistently with many ad agencies and corporations.  I have a very good understanding of their culture and know who succeeds well and who does not. And because I am a single industry recruiter, I often know many of the hiring managers and their preferences  That is invaluable information and enables us to make placements with relative ease because we know who works and who doesn’t at every level from juniors up to the executive suite.

In-house recruiters, on the other hand, rarely get to know the culture of their agencies well.  That is not to say that there aren’t excellent in-house people, but most are generally hired as a Band-Aid when there is a hiring crunch. When the crunch is over, so is their stint.  They are hired guns, brought in to bring in people quickly and without real knowledge of the companies they are working for.  Some actually last a couple of years but only a few are full-time.  Those that are full time work on the current assignments for the agency but only have a limited view of the company, its culture and its business.  They are almost always considered hired guns.

I know and like many of these recruiters.  Some come with a Rolodex of candidates they have met or placed and tend to recycle them from company to company.  Some are just networking demons.  I know one such person who prided herself on hiring twenty-six people in six weeks. Many boast of even greater records.

My observation about internal recruiters is that most rarely meet or interview candidates.  Mostly, they collect résumés (from whatever source), pass them on to the hiring manager and if the manager wishes to meet the person behind the résumé, they then coordinate the interview process. They are paid to get job applicants in and through the system. That isn't really recruiting.  It is merely processing.  Most internal recruiters (not all) neither meet their candidates nor do extensive phone/Skype interviewing.  The issue is that I wonder about the longevity of the hires made by internal recruiters.  I would love someone to do a regression analysis of how candidates from a trusted outside recruiter compare in terms of cultural fit and longevity to the in-house people who, mostly, come and go.

As an aside, I am not sure that most companies actually really care.  If someone is hired, even by the wrong person, the job is filled and off their plate. Then it is on to the next assignment. This is particularly true of juniors – defined here as people with under ten or twelve years’ experience.  In advertising, at least, these executives have become fungible; they mostly satisfy a staffing plan, particularly at the larger network agencies.  The internal recruiters are constantly filling that well and that is what they are paid to do.

I like it when my candidates stay and thrive.  I have long-term relations with many of them.  Just today, I was working with a candidate who I met over twenty years ago.  I wonder how many in-house recruiters establish those kinds of relationships?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Plight Of The Single Industry Contingent Recruiter: The Issues We Face

I am making a confession that perhaps I should not be making publicly, but I thought my clients and my candidates ought to understand a little about the executive search business. There are many recruiters who do general search in all industries and functions, but I only handle advertising executives both for agencies and for clients.

For senior searches, I will only accept assignments on a fee basis.  For most other searches, I will work on contingency.  But here is the issue with contingent searches.

On a retained basis, it is rare that a client will call more than one recruiter.  Fee-paid retainers are almost always exclusive.  But contingent searches are usually given to multiple recruiters.  For a single industry recruiter like myself, I know which of my clients use me exclusively and which call multiple recruiters. As a result, contingent recruiters will only work diligently for two kinds of clients: clients who use a limited number of recruiters (and who don’t compete with us with their own internal recruiters), and clients who pay quickly and well.  The others, unfortunately, get second priority – they include companies which take sixty or ninety days to pay and companies which don’t discriminate and use too many recruiters on the same assignment.

(Often, the companies which take sixty and ninety days to pay, put their executive recruiters in the same category as those that place administrative help.  Secretaries and administrative people tend to leave quickly.  Executives rarely leave.  Besides, we guarantee that our candidates will stay.)

I once had a client who paid quickly (two weeks or less), but confessed to me that she called twenty or so recruiters on every assignment (She couldn’t remember who she called and generally started her conversations with us by saying, “Did I discuss the…assignment with you?). Because they paid well, I always did due diligence immediately.  As a result, I would conduct what is called a file search, meaning I would see who was in my files but if no one fit the brief or if I was really busy, I would probably not work too hard on the assignment. (There is nothing worse for a recruiter than to call candidates and discover that another recruiter had called them prior – sometimes as much as a week before – or, worse, to find out that this candidate had already been called by multiple recruiters.) I know most of the other successful recruiters did the same.  When so many recruiters are involved, there is no incentive to work hard on the placement. A recruiter’s time is valuable. The reason why the client called so many recruiters is that she did not nurture any of her recruiting relationships and none of these suppliers therefore felt special or loyal. The HR person figured (wrongly) that if she called twenty recruiters she might get lucky and get a couple of candidates.  She had no idea that she could get more candidates by being loyal to two or three recruitment firms who would work hard for her.  The shame is that it was a wonderful agency.

The bane of every contingent recruiter’s existence is to have a search cancelled because of the job going to an internal candidate.  While I have always thought it fair and smart for companies to promote and to rotate within their ranks, giving out a search and having it cancelled after having spent time working on it is frustrating both for the headhunter and for candidates, who may be far along in interviewing.

Or sometimes, for whatever reason, the search just gets cancelled.  Both cancellations and internal candidates are acceptable because it is part of the business, but it is not acceptable when the client knew of the internal candidate or knew it might be cancelled at the time they gave out the assignment (see my post on “The more we know the better we can perform”) and they neglected to tell us of this possibility.  If I know in advance, it is my choice to work on the assignment or not. If we are forewarned, it is not an issue.  I can also tell my candidates.

Companies that don’t pay well, clients who abuse our time or call too many headhunters end up getting the least consideration.

Unfortunately, recruiters are rarely evaluated on their true performance – finding great candidates – but they are judged by how quickly they are able to find the most candidates.  The recruiter who makes the placement is deemed, “the best”, whether true or not.  Often these same clients are not concerned about quality, but merely by quantity.  We often get called by new clients, but if we do not make the placement, they won't even return our calls in the future.

Those clients where we do the best, are those who work with us on a preferential basis and give us exclusives or at least limit the number of recruiters who work on the assignment to two or three.  This is a relationship business especially since our client base is limited.

I have always told clients that we may not get the first person we send right or even the second, but once we understand who and what the company is and what the assignment is, we can make placements efficiently and quickly.

Creative Commons License